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Advocacy groups decry Freiburg's stealth return to proprietary office

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The board of the German city council of Freiburg should disclose the analysis that underlies its move back to proprietary office software, say the Open Source Business Alliance, the Free Software Foundation Europe and the Bundesverbands Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologie. In an open letter published this morning, the three organisations also call on the city board to keep the Open Document Format as the default.

In May, plans leaked that Freiburg's IT department is preparing the city's return to using a proprietary office suite, replacing the free and open source suite OpenOffice. That decision is based on a report from an external consultant, which is kept under wraps.

The report has not been shared with the members of the city council. Requests by the press and by the Free Software Foundation Europe to publish the report were denied by the city. The state of Baden-Württemberg does not have a Freedom of Information Act. Freiburg has since May also ignored questions on how it will procure the licences for the software that it wants to use. European procurement rules do not allow requests for a specific brand or product.

In their letter to the city board and the members of the council, the three advocacy groups allege that the budget for the move back to proprietary software is already approved. The three find it 'unusual' that the city board has not involved the council in Freiburg's return to proprietary office software. "Especially since the city council has decided the opposite of what seems to be implemented."

Interoperability problems
The three groups fear that the city board is ignoring the wish of the city council "or at least tries to create facts that are difficult to change."

According to well-informed sources the two arguments to return to proprietary office software are interoperability issues and costs.

Freiburg's city council in 2007 decided to make the Open Document Format the default for electronic documents. The city council at the same time said the city should become less dependent on a single IT vendor for its office productivity software. Based on these decisions it started a gradual switch to OpenOffice, a free software alternative.

In 2011, representatives of the IT department started talking about serious interoperability problems when exchanging documents with public administrations at the state and federal level. They also pointed to backward compatibility issues in OpenOffice, creating problems in contracts and other legal documents.

Gerhard Frey, spokesperson for Die Grünen (the Green) in the city council confirmed that the council members have still not seen the report. "We wish Freiburg to continue to use OpenOffice. However, at this point it is difficult to get a majority decision in the council. We would like the support of the other major party in the council, the SPD, but they have no interest whatsoever in this topic."

Commenting on behalf of the Free Software Foundation Europe, Matthias Kirchner said Freiburg is a perfect example of a public administration that fails to invest in getting rid of IT vendor lock-in. "They never had a budget to support the move to free software. Yet when that switch surprisingly fails, they do have money to pay for non-free software again."

More information:
Open letter to the city council of Freiburg (in German)
Joinup news item